What’s on? The Tempest at the People’s Theatre

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The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, is the latest tale to be staged by Newcastle’s People’s Theatre.

The drama, widely thought to be the last play The Bard wrote alone, will begin performances next Tuesday. It is the latest in the Heaton venue’s season, following successful productions of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest and Antigone by Jean Anouilh.

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Marooned on a remote island, Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan, lives with his daughter Miranda and their two servants: the flighty spirit Ariel, and Caliban, the downtrodden witch-spawned drudge.

Prospero uses his magic powers to conjure up a storm, shipwrecking his wicked brother and his court on the island, placing them at his mercy.

But Shakespeare’s classic is no simple tale of revenge. The political intrigue and sibling rivalry at the heart of the tale are counterpointed by one of Jacobean theatre’s greatest evocations of love at first sight.

Romance and reconciliation win the day, with much roistering high-jinks, melodramatic sorcery, and knockabout comic interludes along the way.

The production is directed by Anna Dobson, who has previously directed pantomime at the theatre.

The Tempest is at the People’s Theatre from Tuesday March 7 to Saturday March 11. Tickets are £13.50 (£11 concessions). For more info, call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here

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REVIEW: Hadaway Harry, Theatre Royal – “seamless storytelling of unforgettable Geordie pride”

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This year seems to be the year of previously unknown true stories hitting it big. But as Hidden Figures, the story of the African-American women who helped NASA put John Glen into space, heads to the Oscars, there’s a story closer to home making waves in the North East.

Writer/producer Ed Waugh and director Russell Floyd have brought the story of North East sports star Harry Clasper to the stage. As a rower, Clasper was the Sir Steve Redgrave of his day, and managed to make it from a working-class upbringing in Dunston to lead eight teams to win the Championship of the World on the Thames at Putney. He also invented and built the slim, light boats and outriggers used by modern scullers. The song of the Blaydon Races was even written for him. 130,000 people attended his funeral.

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Jamie Brown brings boundless energy to the part of Harry. He throws his entire being behind each monologue he reels off in that brilliant Geordie twang, at times like a foreign language to those unfamiliar. To hold a play for almost two hours when you’re on stage alone for most of that time is quite an ask but Brown is unfazed. Near the finale, he mimics rowing in Clasper’s big race for what feels like an eternity and you can almost see the blood, sweat and tears. He gives the character a huge heart and likability in bucketloads.

Wayne Miller plays the additional characters in the story. Everyone from a nosy female neighbour spying and gossiping to an upper-class gent betting on the races to his cockney rival at the Thames regatta. He’s great in all guises and brings great comic relief to a story that is at times grim. He’s also responsible for leading the audience in a rousing sing along of the Blaydon Races.

The simplistic staging consists of nothing but a chest Harry sits on and a podium from under which the other characters appear. There isn’t even a boat – which is testament to the two actors’ seamless performances that the audience believes so fiercely in the story, and in particular the thrilling final moments.

I feel somewhat failed that I had never heard this story before. I was sat in front of a row (no pun intended) of former rowers who chatted passionately and extensively about Harry’s life before the curtain went up and the delight the play brought to them was visible. It would make a great film – a Cinderella story of a boy who came from nothing and became the star of his day. Aside from that, it’s a story that should be taught in schools as an education tool, about history, about sport and about our region.

You may now know the name Harry Clasper but this is a story, and a production, you will be unlikely to forget.

Hadaway Harry is at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal until Saturday February 25, 14.30pm and 19.30pm. For more information and tickets, click here

Bowie and Little Mix win big, a Wham! tribute to George Michael and Adele’s global domination is confirmed: The Brits 2017 round-up

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The night saw performances from some of the music industry’s biggest stars, awards for some old timers  and a few upsets along the away.

Little Mix opened the show, carried in on thrones like the queens of pop they are. Performing Shoutout To My Ex flanked by 70-plus dancers in what could be described as Michael and Janet in Scream meets Gaga in space via RuPaul’s Drag Race, they raised the roof right off the O2 before ascending up out of it on a hydraulic lift.

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Bruno Mars crooned his way through That’s What I Like in a super-smooth performance that seemed to win over a crowd of baying ladies, despite him being dressed as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

 

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Emeli Sande was accompanied by a troupe of contemporary, martial-arts style dancers as she did what she does best. She delivered a dramatic version on her latest track Hurts, and perhaps surprisingly, gave one of the stand-out performances of night.

The 1975 gave a somewhat erratic performance of The Sound. Critics’ reviews of the band flashed on screen throughout with barbs such as “totally lacking the wow factor” and “Is this a joke?” The irony may have been a little lost. Although, choir in tow, the boys still managed to delight the crowd.

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Katy Perry’s rendition of new tune Chained to the Rhythm had all the charisma of the cardboard houses and giant skeleton that shared her stage. The sound team were working overdrive a la Kanye in 2015 with an expletive-ridden performance from Skepta. The grime song was supposed to be in defence of the genre’s bad reputation but with a mostly muted turn, the message got lost in translation.

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Coldplay teamed up with EDM hot shots Chainsmokers to debut their collaboration, Something Just Like This, in the psychedelic setting we’ve come to expect from the band. Man of the moment Ed Sheeran also took to the stage with not only one, but both of his recent singles, Castle on the Hill and Touch, the latter featuring a guest appearance by Stormzy.

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It was a mixed bag with regards to the awards themselves, with some old pros bagging awards as well as some unexpected wins.

Sande, who last year returned to the pop fold with second album Long Live The Angels, beat out relative unknowns Nao, Anohni and Lianne La Havas and veteran Ellie Goulding to bag Best British Female. She sweetly took her sister Lucy up to the podium to collect the gong, dedicating it to her in the process.

The 1975, who last year scored number one albums on both sides of the Atlantic, deservedly beat Little Mix, Bastille, Biffy Clyro and Radiohead to British Band. Lead singer encouraged anyone with a platform to speak out and to “not stay in your lane.” David Bowie was given British Male in a no-contest category with Craig David, Kano, Skepta and Michael Kiwanuka. Michael C. Hall, who is starring in the Bowie musical Lazarus, accepted the posthumous award on the singer’s behalf.

British Breakthrough went to Rag n Bone Man, aka Rory Graham, who had earlier been awarded the Critic’s Choice award for 2017. He thanked his fans for the award in a touching speech and was genuinely buzzing to be gaining momentum, despite being “ten years deep” into his career.

One of the biggest awards of the night, British Single, went to Shoutout To My Ex by Little Mix, beating out big hitters like Zayn’s Pillowtalk and the unshakeable Rockabye by Clean Bandit. The moment echoed girl band predecessors Girls Aloud’s winning moment for the same award back in 2008. It was a hard-earned battle for the four-piece, previously topping charts around the world and breaking records set by a little-known pop group called The Spice Girls in the past few years.

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Other big winners of the night included Drake, for International Male, Beyonce for International Female and in a big upset, A Tribe Called Quest for Internation Group. Adele bagged the Global Success gong but couldn’t attend the ceremony, so thanked fans via video message.

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Following Adele’s tribute to the late George Michael at the Grammys earlier this month, Brits organisers also paid homage. George’s Wham! Bandmates Andrew Ridgley, Shirlie Kemp and Helen ‘Pepsi’ DeMacque gave a beautiful speech about their beloved friend, recalling the beginnings of the band and their relationship. They talked about his talent, his heart and his great kindness. “Anyone who asked for George’s help invariably got it.” The ladies of Wham! broke down in tears as they spoke. “I loved him,” said Andrew. “And in turn, we, you – have been loved.” Chris Martin gave a performance of A Different Corner, duetting with a video recording of the man himself. A lovely touch.

Robbie Williams closed proceedings with Heavy Entertainment Show/Love My Life and delivered a typically showy performance befitting the most decorated artist in Brits history. It wasn’t a vintage year, but it was better than it’s been in a long time – probably, since Williams was last on the stage.

Full list of winners:

British Female – Emeli Sande

British Male – David Bowie

British Group – The 1975

International Male – Drake

International Female – Beyonce

International Group – A Tribe Called Quest

British Single – Shoutout to My Ex, Little Mix

British Artist Video of the Year – History, One Direction

Mastercard British Album –

Global Success – Adele

Photos: Lia Toby, WENN, David Fisher, Shutterstock, REX, Matt Cossick, Empics Entertainment, ITV, Joel Ryan, Invision, AP, Jonathan Lipinski, BBC

REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – “It would be a disservice to call this amateur – it is a stunning production”

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A freezing cold Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre was hot like an Aussie BBQ on opening night for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, as the audience was flung like a boomerang from Sydney to the Aussie outback for one of the most glamorous shows there is.

The musical, adapted from the 1994 cult classic film, follows drag queens Tick and Adam and Berndatte, a transgender woman, as they pile into a tour bus, the eponymous Priscilla, and travel across Australia to perform their cabaret act in a hotel ran by Tick’s estranged wife, Marion. There’s a method in Tick’s madness though – he’s really on the way to meeting his young son for the first time.

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The production is visually stunning. Produced by Liam Glendenning and Astravaganza Entertainment and directed by Dan Cunningham, the man responsible for bringing Boulevard’s Miss Rory to life, it is an accomplished stab at what could be considered the musical equivalent of climbing Ayre’s rock in “full tits and feathers”, an ambition Adam proudly boasts of in the show. It’s no mean feat to stage something of this calibre and to call it an amateur production would feel like a disservice. Glittering grand sets provide the backdrop and of course the “budget Barbie campervan” itself is the focal point. Rotating on stage as to show off her interiors – the bus almost steals the show and is the centrepiece of one of the most fun numbers, Colour My World.

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Keith Wigham is simply superb as Bernadette. He inhabits the character and displays the right amount of fragility as a woman who just wants to find love, mixed with a fearsome protectiveness of her two companions. The latter is shown when Adam is attacked by a group of men and she comes to his rescue like a knight in a chiffon pant suit. Another stunning moment comes courtesy of Bernadette and Bob, the man who she falls for. Wigham’s rendition of True Colours, one of many LGBT anthems included in the show, is beautifully done; not outlandish or played for laughs, but touching and heart wrenching.

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A few technical hiccups (frustratingly near the end of the show) hampered some of the final songs but Jason Jones, as Tick, soldiered on. Jones leads the trio, and the show, with tremendous valour so it was no surprise that the mic problems didn’t faze him. The scenes  between him and his son are emotionally done; the newly-united pair are great together and give the show a real heart. James Forster as Adam completes the main line-up and is like a Tasmanian devil from the minute he steps on stage. The part requires not only a cracking set of pipes but tonnes of energy and enthusiasm and Forster’s turn is overwhelming in the best way possible.

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Other standout performances come from Jack Wonnacott and Josephine Hatfield. Wonnacott’s comic timing is en pointe as Miss Understanding, a hostess of sorts for the evening, and is a rousing introduction to the show (which sets the tone perfectly with a hilarious take on Tina Turner) Hatfield also impresses as one of the three Divas. Her larger-than-life voice, showcased on songs like It’s Raining Men, is incredible.

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Disclaimer: this show isn’t going to be everyone’s glass of champagne. The songs aren’t your usual musical theatre fodder and at times, don’t lend themselves that well to telling a story. But, this is a story full of heart and more relevant than ever in these times where, still, not everyone is accepting of one another. And, if you’re here to sing your heart out and dance in the aisles, don’t be a drag and look no further than Priscilla, queen of camp.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Sunday February 12, 16.30 and 20.00. Tickets are priced £16.50 – £22, Concessions £2 off full price tickets Thurs & Sun only. Groups buy 10 get 1 free. (Plus booking fees when booking online or over the phone) Click here for tickets.

Photos: Stagedoor Photography (visit their website here)

REVIEW: Dirty Dancing, Theatre Royal Newcastle – “All the ingredients to give you the Time of Your Life”

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It’s been called “the biggest live theatre sensation of all time” and judging by the reaction from the audience in Newcastle last night – that wouldn’t be such an outrageous statement.

Based on, of course, the iconic 1987 film starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, this stage adaptation has been a hit throughout Europe, North America and Australia. The year is 1963: America is still innocent, JFK has yet to be assassinated and Martin Luther King Jr. is preparing to deliver his landmark “I have a dream” speech. The plot here follows Frances “Baby” Houseman on vacation with her family at Kellerman’s resort up in the Catskills, as she falls for Johnny Castle, the sexy dance teacher, who teaches her how to move and pair up with him for the big end of summer dance show.

The film is not a musical – so here, the plot is interspersed with songs from it’s legendary soundtrack. Tunes like Be My Baby, Hungry Eyes, She’s Like the Wind and Do You Love Me? are chock full of nostalgia and save the show from becoming your run-of-the-mill jukebox musical. They are performed primarily by supporting players Tito Suarez, Daniela Pobega and Michael Kent, although it would have been nice to see the main cast in vocal action. Some songs aren’t performed at all, but rather just played as they were in the film, which again is something I wasn’t expecting and didn’t necessarily want. Kent gives a touching rendition of In the Still of the Night, though.

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Where another Swayze film-to-musical, Ghost, uses ultra-modern technology and contemporary music to tell its story, this production uses good old-fashioned nostalgia and a hark back to simpler times with great success. It’s quaint set turns and twirls, from dance hall to cabin to the lake, like it could be one the dancers who hoof across it. The K emblazoned on it could as easily stood for ‘kitsch’ as it does for Kellerman’s.

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Lewis Griffiths plays Johnny with pure sex appeal. He has the majority-female audience eating out of his hand right from his entrance and gives great Swayze swagger as he seduces Baby, stands up to Robbie and faces off against Mr Houseman in his daughter’s honour. One scene in particular, where Griffiths rises from bed in barely-there underwear caused genuine squeals from women old enough to know better. He’s a force to be reckoned with, whether on the dance floor teaching Baby the Mambo or comforting Penny off.

Katie Hartland – in one of her first major theatre roles – shines as Baby. She blossoms from awkward beginner to bona-fide dancing queen in front of our eyes and takes us on a touching journey of growth with her. Baby’s sister Lisa’s hula number in the talent contest is performed with great gusto and comedic flair by Lizzie Otley, who gradually becomes more of a scene-stealer throughout.

Carlie Milner’s Penny is, for me, the star of the piece. Not only is the statuesque siren a phenomenal dancer, best shown in the early scenes of hers and Johnny’s fierce partnership, but her truly heartbreaking portrayal of a woman in tearful torment, left with an unplanned pregnancy by a man who doesn’t care was unexpectedly searing, but more than appreciated.

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One of the (many) perks of a show with an ending that the audience is expecting and so passionately wants, is that when it finally arrives, it makes quite an impact. The infamous closing number, (I’ve had) The Time of my Life ends the show on a dizzying high, the film’s iconic choreography matched step by step here and that lift executed flawlessly.

I wasn’t expecting to love it quite as much as I did but there’s something to be said for a show that can reduce a grown woman to teenage pandemonium and a grown man to goosebumps, within the same number. The time of your life? Without a doubt.

Dirty Dancing is at the Theatre Royal Newcastle until Saturday January 28. For more information and for tickets, call the box office on 08448 11 21 21 or click here

Photos: Wizard Productions

REVIEW: The Unexpected Guest – “Alison Carr is mesmerising. A great cast help save an adequate story”

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As far as ‘whodunnits’ go, I’m far more used to being laid out on the sofa with a cup of tea (gin and tonic) watching them unfold on telly. So, to be in the theatre watching the drama unfurl live on stage is an intriguing novelty in itself. Also intriguing is that The Unexpected Guest, written by the grand doyenne of detective stories Agatha Christie, has never been adapted into a television series or film in the UK. And there’s an argument for and against this.

The Unexpected Guest isn’t the most fast-paced of Christie’s plays. We are introduced to the central characters, mean old Richard Warwick (Spoiler alert: he’s dead in his armchair) his wife Laura (Spoiler alert: she’s holding the pistol that killed him) and Michael Starkwedder, a stranger who just so happens to have walked in on a crime scene, all in the first few seconds. The plot, however, is a slow-burner. Starkwedder bizarrely offers to help Mrs Warwick cover up the murder by framing an old rival, whose son was knocked over and killed in a drunken hit and run by Richard years before. This wouldn’t be a whodunnit if it were that straightforward, though, and a slew of suspects come into the fray to muddle with their plans. Slow it may be, but it still has all of the ingredients for a fine drama, so it’s beggars belief why it’s not more well-known. It’s classic Christie; interesting, uncertain and deliciously over-the-top. It keeps the audience’s attention straight through to the finale, or at least it did mine.

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Alison Carr is mesmerising as the unhinged Laura. It isn’t clear to the audience whether the murder of her husband is a crime of passion or pure malevolence, or whether she’s even behind it, and Carr has them hanging on her every movement. Carr is also an award-winning playwright and it is probably these skills, an eye for detail and the understanding of a character’s being, that aid her in giving such an understated yet rich performance, which begins right from her fabulously camp entrance wielding a pistol. Sam Hinton is also great as Starkwedder. His swagger is impressive and his cool, conniving demeanour is a grounding presence in contrast to Carr’s nervous Laura. Richard Gardner is on great form as Sergeant Cadwallender, his broad Welsh accent down to a tee. He was spectacular in the People’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors a few months back and he impresses again here. Callum Mawston also puts in a sweet and studied turn as young Jan, a lad with learning difficulties.

A rich set utilises the stage well, the chair in which the victim is discovered the focal point throughout. Jess Chapman and Vanessa Aiken’s direction is simple and allows the story to unfold without too many distractions. Other than a few gunshots and cigarettes being chain-smoked, the play is played straight.

Not the most obviously thrilling of Christie’s works, but a perfectly good display of her talents as a murder mystery writer. In this case, a great cast help an adequate story become something a little bit more, well, mysterious.

The Unexpected Guest is at the People’s Theatre until Sat January 21. For more information or to book tickets, call the box office on 0191 265 5020 or click here

REVIEW: Lads and Lashes, Boulevard – “the perfect antidote to the January blues”

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The grand stage of Boulevard can be a daunting place for the most established of acts. For a relatively new double act still building a fan base, it could be terrifying. But if Lads and Lashes, aka Dixie Swallows and Penny Arcade, were feeling the pressure, they could have fooled us.

Their Christmas show, performed in the ‘purple palace’ for the first time, was a whirlwind of classic drag performances in parts; everything from Cher and Tina Turner to Grease and Rocky Horror, via Frozen, Abba and a bevy of festive frolics and it was these Christmas numbers that were the highlight for me. Although a little odd (it being almost mid-January) they were slick and stylish when necessary and hilariously funny when they needed to be. Rocky Horror and Grease also proved popular with punters, a room full of people doing the Time Warp and swaying in sync to Hopelessly Devoted To You not to be sniffed at. Dixie’s Cilla Black also brought the house down, a number which took in swinging 60s Cilla as well as Surprise Surprise TV host Cilla.

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For me, however, the real revelation here was Penny. Having been unfamiliar with her cabaret act (after having her own act in Turkey a few years back, she was strictly a DJ in the bars of Newcastle by the time I got to them) I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was fantastic. A true pro, great mover and had the lip-synching down. Her version of Jingle Bells was a riot and her take on Danny in Grease was the perfect accompaniment to Dixie’s pill-popping Sandy. An out-of-control Amy Winehouse was predictable but saved by a sped-up, chipmunks-esque version of Valerie which genuinely had me in stitches.

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The pair weren’t backed by a troupe of dancers or any over-the-top SFX, but did the best with what they had. A 20-foot Christmas tree and beautiful costumes were all they to help their numbers along.

The show could definitely have been cut a little shorter but didn’t matter too much as it was interspersed with breaks and witty banter from hostess Phyllis Tyne on the mic.

Was it generic in parts? Absolutely. But was it thoroughly entertaining and the perfect antidote to the January blues? Without a doubt. The show may have been unpolished in parts but that’s the fun with diamonds; and these two are definitely diamonds in the rough. I genuinely look forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeves, whether that’s Easter in June or Halloween in August – count me in.

People’s Theatre to host Agatha Christie whodunnit The Unexpected Guest

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The Unexpected Guest, Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, is the next play in the Heaton theatre’s new season.

The plot sees a young man’s car breaks down one foggy night near a remote country house. Seeking help, he finds his way into the study via the French windows, only to discover the murdered body of its owner Richard Warwick.

But all is not what it seems in this house full of secrets and there’s no shortage of suspects. Was it Richard’s bitter wife who killed him? Could his own mother have fired the fatal shot? Or maybe it was his unscrupulous manservant.

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Christie is one of the best-selling writers of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible. She wrote The Unexpected Guest in 1958, with The Guardian writing that the applause on the opening night “was the equal of that which welcomed her record-breaking triumph, The Mousetrap”.

A recent BBC TV adaptation of her Witness For The Prosecution was watched by millions. The two-part drama starred Andrea Riseborough, who started her acting career at the People’s Theatre.

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Tickets are £13.50 with £11 concessions and are available from People’s Theatre box office or on their website.

Audiences are advised that this production contains smoking and language that may be offensive.

The Unexpected Guest is at running Tuesday January 17 – Saturday January 21. For tickets, call 0191 265 5020, or click here.

WATCH: James Corden takes on Neil Patrick Harris in a Broadway riff-off

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Both have hosted the Tony Awards, performed on the Tony Awards – hell, both have won Tony Awards. But last night, on The Late Late Show, host James Corden and Neil Patrick Harris went toe-to-toe in a Broadway-inspired sing-off.

Tackling hits from shows like Guys and Dolls, Chicago, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (for which Patrick Harris garnered his award) and current Broadway super-hit Hamilton, the pair were accompanied by a cappella group The Filharmoni and had every theatre geek in the land FREAKING out.

Patrick Harris, who will next to be seen in Netflix’s adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, won Best Lead Actor in a Musical at the 2014 awards, whilst Corden won Best Lead Actor in a Play for One Man, Two Guvnors two years prior.

Watch the video below:

Lads and Lashes to serve up a post-Christmas festive spectacular at Boulevard

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If you’re not ready to accept Christmas is over and can’t quite face those January blues yet, there are a couple of lad-ies who might be able to help.

Lads and Lashes, the cabaret act made up of drag performers Penny Arcade and Dixie Swallows, are gearing up to keep the festivities going with their one-off Christmas show next week.

Described as “a mix of old and new, Christmas and camp” it is the most recent of the Lads and Lashes shows. The north east-based act has performed previously at the Quayside Exchange in Sunderland and Newcastle’s Pink Room nightclub, amongst other venues, but this special festive show will see Penny and Dixie take to the grand stage of cabaret venue Boulevard, usual home of Danni Dee and the Broadway Dancers. It will be hosted by fellow drag queen Phyllis Tyne.

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“It’s going to be an evening of traditional camp fun with all the usual favourites you’d expect from me and Penny,” said Dixie, who when not performing cabaret, can also be found DJing in The Bank Bar and The Pink Room. You can read our interview with Dixie from a few months ago, here.

Tickets can be purchased by contacting their Facebook page here or in person at The Bank Bar on Scotswood Road. Standing tickets are £5, seated £15 and front premier are £20.

Lads and Lashes Christmas Special is at Boulevard on Friday January 13. For more information and ticket details, click here